Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Suspended Animation


  • -Turn off your offers, among other things, a very scary statistic: At the rate they are going, today’s kids will spend 7-10 years of their lives watching TV.
  • -This blogger claims that 4 benefits occur when you cut out TV: “The first thing you notice is the reduced stress level. The second're reading more. The third get out more, and you lose a little weight. The fourth thing you might notice…is more sex." OK, I’m all for it! She’s got a lot to say on the subject: go to Creating Passionate Users to read more of both firsthand impressions and related research.
  • -Kid's Health provides a wealth of information on TV for parents.


I’ve made today the official start of my experiment. No TV for 2 weeks.

I’m not a regular watcher of anything. I couldn’t tell you, without double checking, when House or CSI or Law and Order is on. I am a flipper. Ready to zone out, I’ll pick up the remote and scan by the 100 + channels our satellite has to offer. Mostly I land on the aforementioned shows and escape into the realm of medical or criminal mystery for a while. Much more rarely I find a thought-provoking documentary or an admired author reading their work on Book TV. Lately, of course, there’s been the privilege of watching the debates, with the very tangible benefit of reading personality behind all the rhetoric.

We only recently switched from basic cable to satellite, and often I wonder why. More channels to choose from, and yet still I flip restlessly among them, sometimes finding nothing at all that’s worth my time. On these occasions, rather than hitting the “off” button, I go around and around in a cyclical flip for a while. I feel like one of those cartoon characters in a trance, with spiraling black and white circles for eyes.

I don’t think TV is all bad. But lately I’ve come to feel that it keeps me from going deeper in my life. I use it as a sedative, when I could be catching up with a friend, trying out that meditation I crave but never really pursue, pushing myself to write just a bit more (instead of complaining about my time shortage).

Similar thoughts for Gavin and what TV might be preventing. We’ve set reasonable limits: only PBS for a few minutes on school mornings, an hour at most on school evenings. We are looser on the weekends, although I make sure we have outings, or get our minds busy and hands into something like Play Doh or Magnetix. Still, I worry that Gavin leans too heavily on TV’s promise of entertainment and, yes, sedation. It’s very easy as a parent to lean on these effects, too.

Tom and I earned the dubious distinction of owning the same TV for more than 18 years. We knew it was dying, and I saw this as an opportunity. I suggested that, when it finally took its last breath, that would be our cue to do a family experiment and go without TV for at least a couple of days. Our response spoke volumes: within hours Tom was shopping for a replacement, and I didn’t protest too much.

Reading this back, I realize that TV time is the only time when I am not productive in some way. And I really believe that we all need nonproductive time, time to just be. But it’s almost as if TV is the only way I’d give myself permission to be, and I don’t like that aspect of it. I’d like to be without a soundtrack for a while.

My friend Camilla lent me the first in a journal trilogy by Madeleine L’Engle. I did my pilot mini-boycott last night with this book in my hand. Appropriately, it is called A Circle of Quiet. I don’t think all of my non-TV pursuits need to be literally quiet, but I hope that they are more thoughtful and centered than the zoning out that feels too dominant these days. I enjoyed this quote from the book: “Here we are, living in a world of identity crises, and we have no idea what an identity is”. Written in 1972, when I was the same age as Gavin, this phrase has proven pretty timeless. I am hoping this experiment uncovers some lost or buried facets of my identity, gets me closer to who I really am without the noise.

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